Home Technology This is the fastest and most expensive Wi-Fi router I’ve ever tested

This is the fastest and most expensive Wi-Fi router I’ve ever tested

This is the fastest and most expensive Wi-Fi router I’ve ever tested

It's a great mesh network if you can afford it and you have the right gear to make the best of it.

It’s a great mesh network if you can afford it and you have the right gear to make the best of it. 

Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • Netgear Orbi 970 is as good a mesh network as you can buy, but oh, that price!
  • It’s faster than essentially anything you can buy today, and it can cover your entire estate, Mr. Wayne, and your Batcave, too. 
  • You don’t need to have Bruce Wayne — or Scoorge McDuck — levels of wealth to afford it, but it wouldn’t hurt.

The Netgear Orbi 970 mesh Wi-Fi router has been out for months, but I only recently got one. Why? Because, until I upgraded my home office AT&T fiber Internet from 1- to 2Gbps — along with some of my home network gear, smartphone, and computers — the Orbi’s maximum bandwidth of 27 Gbps would have been wasted on me.

Now, in the real world, you won’t see 27 Gbps point-to-point speed. And you’ll never see that much bandwidth in your home or office this decade. But, in practical terms, the latest Orbi will deliver 2.5Gbps over your 2.5Gbps-and-faster Ethernet connections; using Wi-Fi 7, I saw 2Gbps speeds on my Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.  

Also: Mesh routers vs. Wi-Fi routers: What is best for your home office?

To get all that speed, you’ll need a pretty penny. The Netgear Orbi 970 pack with a router and two satellites costs $2,299.99

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For that money, though, you’ll get about 10,000 square feet of coverage. In my case, the Orbi trio covered both my 1,000-square-foot office and studio and my separate 3,000-square-foot home. That’s even more impressive than it sounds because my house dates from 1904 and has thick external and plaster internal walls. If you don’t need that much coverage, check out the somewhat more affordable two-piece 970 system, which costs $1,699.99 and covers 6,600 square feet. 

Need to cover yet more area? You can buy a standalone satellite for $899.99 for an additional 3,300 square feet of coverage. No matter how many satellites you deploy, you can only have 200 devices connected at a time. I think that will be enough for most of us. 

Also: The best mesh routers you can buy

How does it cover so much space with so much speed? Because the Orbi is a quad-band system. Besides the 2.4- and 5Ghz bands we’ve been using for Wi-Fi since 802.11a showed up in 1999, the Orbi supports an additional 5Ghz band and uses the 6GHz band. Put it all together, and it works like this: You get a maximum theoretical data rate of up to 1,147Mbps on 2.4GHz; up to 8,647Mbps on one 5GHz band; up to 5,765Mbps on the second 5GHz band, and you top out at 11,530Mbps on the 6GHz band. 

What’s included

The physical units themselves come in white with gold trim or black with black trim. They’re also quite large. The router and its satellites are each 11.5 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and 5.1 inches deep. 

The router comes with a 10GbE Wide Area Network (WAN) port, which is the port you use to connect to your Internet modem. The Orbi also includes a 10GbE LAN port and four 2.5GbE LAN ports. These are all on the rear panel, along with a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, a power button, a power port, and a reset button. However, there is no USB port. If you want to add a network drive, you’ll need to look elsewhere. 

Inside each device, you’ll find 12 high-gain amplified antennas, a 2.2GHz quad-core ARM CPU, 4GB flash memory, and 2GB RAM. 

The router can use a satellite’s 10Gbe port or, more typically, Multi-Link Operation (MLO), which simultaneously uses the second 5GHz and the 6GHz bands as a backhaul to provide the best possible throughput. Here is where you’d see the Orbi 970 approach its theoretical maximum speed.  

With Wi-Fi 7, the Orbi also introduces a new way to get your Wi-Fi signal through even if many other Wi-Fi access points are competing for space: Preamble puncturing. This feature enables the Orbi and your device to carve out a slice of a channel to transmit your data when there’s interference, which automatically enables your devices to access the best possible Wi-Fi performance. 

To help secure your network, the software also supports an Internet of Things (IoT) option. This is ideal for placing IoT devices —“smart” toothbrushes, for example — that don’t need to be on the Internet except for the occasional update or patch. 

The Orbi comes with a one-year free subscription to the Netgear Armor security program, which includes protection both for the network itself and your connected devices. If you like what you see — and it’s decent security software — it will cost you $99.99 per year. 

Setting up the Netgear Orbi 970

To set up and manage your Orbi, you just scan the QR code on the router, and you’re in business. This will install the Orbi mobile app on your Android or iPhone. If you want finer control, you can also use the Orbi’s website.

It took me all of five minutes to set up my Orbi — which consisted primarily of replacing my existing Orbi 960 rig. It’s still good, and at $1,299, it’s much more affordable. But, as someone who lives and works on the Internet’s bleeding edge, I wanted the fastest possible network.

Netgear Orbi 970 speed test

Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNET

Oh, and before you ask, you can’t integrate the two mesh networks. I looked into it, and you can’t do it. You can theoretically add the 960 via an Ethernet connection as an access point of the 970 network, but I haven’t tried that yet, and you wouldn’t get an actual mesh network out of such a franken-network. 

On my work network, which also doubles as my home network, I saw average speeds of 2.3 Gbps using the IxChariot system load benchmark running from my in-house Rocky Linux server to my Linux, Windows, and macOS desktops. 

Also: What is 5G home internet? Here’s what to know before you sign up

On the Wi-Fi side of things, I saw similar results at ranges of up to 10 feet. Beyond that, up to 30 feet, I saw speeds of up to 1Gbps. At the far range of 100 feet with multiple thick walls in the way, I still saw speeds averaging around 300 Mbps. The best my other meshes and APs had managed at that range was 25 Mbps, and older network hardware, such as my 2020 vintage D-Link AC1750, couldn’t connect at all. 

How fast is the Netgear Orbi 970?

As for my 2Gbps Internet, my speed — as measured by the popular Ookla speed test — maxed out at 1.9Gbps. Just as with my in-house network tests, Ookla showed that I’d get 1 Gbps at 30 feet down to 300Mbps at my maximum range. 

Less formally, I store almost all my documents and graphics on network drives, and they now pop up almost instantly on my desktops. Even more impressively, when I call on my Google Drive or Nextcloud files, they now appear at what I had thought of as my local network drive speeds. Color me impressed. 

Also: 10 ways to speed up your internet connection today

Of course, when I used the Orbi 970 with my older equipment, it was a different story. I never saw speeds faster than 1Gbps either wirelessly or on Ethernet. The good news? At my maximum range, I still saw a top speed of 300 Mbps.

This wasn’t the 970’s fault. No, the problem is that the Orbi 970 only shows its best advantage when you use it with equipment that supports Wi-Fi 7 and/or 2.5 Gbps Ethernet. 

A network truism is that a network is only as fast as its slowest component. Your Gigabit Ethernet switch or Wi-Fi 5, aka 802.11ac network will still work as well as ever, but they can’t keep up with the 970 or, for that matter, my AT&T 2Gbps fiber.

The necessary add-ons

I had to upgrade my entire network to actually make it worth my time to buy the Orbi 970. I started with my gigabit network switches, which I replaced with 2.5 Gb switches that included the $170 TP-Link TL-SG108-M2 and the $120 Zyxel 8-Port 2.5G Multi-Gigabit Unmanaged Switch. At least, I was already using Cat 6 cabling, which can support up to 10 Gbps, so I didn’t need to replace it. 

Except for my servers, which already supported 10 Gbps Ethernet via a $276 TRENDnet 5-Port 10G Switch, I had to add $30 2.5 Gbps TP-Link 2.5GB PCIe Network Card to my computers. 

Also: Modem vs router: What’s the difference?

As for Wi-Fi 7, there’s not much Wi-Fi 7-ready equipment available. My Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is my only mobile gear that supports it. Intel’s $39 WiFi 7 BE200NGW M.2 WiFi Card Tri-Band 802.11be WiFi Module is the only Wi-Fi 7-compatible network card I trust, and it comes with many caveats about what equipment and operating systems it will — and won’t — work with. For example, only Windows 11, Linux, and ChromeOS support Wi-Fi 7.

In other words, besides the high upfront cost of the Orbi 970, chances are you will need to spend even more money upgrading your existing network. 

ZDNET’s buying advice

Is the Netgear Orbi 970 worth it? For most of you, the answer is no. If all you need is broadband for a small business or a home with a lot of TV streaming going on, this router is overkill. For that matter, you don’t need 2Gbps or faster Internet either. We’re a long way from the day when there’s an uncompressed 8K Super Bowl video stream that we absolutely must watch. 

However, if — like me — you throw terabytes of data between your office and your cloud or remote servers, or you have, say, 50 or more users in a small office, then, yes, consider getting an Orbi 970. 

Even then, you should wait for a while if you use Wi-Fi for most of your networking. There’s simply not enough hardware ready to run Wi-Fi 7 today to make it worth your time. By the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2024, and if you’re going to upgrade your phones and computers anyway, it will be a different story.  

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